AT&T tweaks its unlimited data plans to offer tethering

Daniel Cooper, Engadget, 3/3/17

10GB per line, plus incentives for you to get DirecTV.

Remember when AT&T announced that it would once again offer unlimited data packages, and they were a little underwhelming? Sensing its error, the company has taken the opportunity to roll out a tweaked plan to ease the pain of your wallet. AT&T Unlimited Plus offers unlimited calls, texts and 22GB of high speed data before you hit the throttling wall for $90 a month. Even better, the plan now offers 10GB tethering data per line — something that was omitted from the prior set of plans.

AT&T’s also keen on tying folks in to both its mobile and TV packages, with juicy incentives for those who pay for both. Subscribers to Unlimited Plus will get a $25 monthly credit towards their DirecTV, DirecTV Now or U-Verse TV packages. In addition, AT&T is proud to offer zero-rating for its video packages, so if you watch DirecTV Now on your mobile connection, it won’t count against your data.

Naturally, the pricing schedule is increasingly complicated the more lines you pay for, but you can get four lines for $185 a month. You can also add on other devices, like a tablet, wireless home phone or hotspot, for another $20 a month. For most people, the easy calculation is that you’ll get the main data plan and DirecTV now for $100 a month once you’ve taken credits and incentives into account.

The company is also rolling out an unlimited data plan without the extra bells and whistles, so long as you’re happy with capped speeds. AT&T Unlimited Choice will set you back $60 a month (for the first line) with the speed limited to 3Mbps and video held at 480p resolution. Both plans however, will allow you to roam into Canada and Mexico without incurring additional charges.

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Posted on March 3, 2017 at 8:55 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Alcatel wants to be Android, but different – and another crack at the Windows market

Tim Anderson, The Register, 3/3/17

MWC Alcatel, a brand of Hong Kong-based TCL Communication, has announced the A5 LED at Mobile World Congress, which it claims is “the world’s first interactive LED-covered smartphone.”

Before you quip “and there’s a reason for that”, have some sympathy for the plight of Android vendors struggling to differentiate their brands.

Aimed at “energetic young consumers”, the 5.2″ A5 LED has an illuminated back panel which you can use for notifications, setting different patterns for each type of message, and for creating your own pulsating light show in time with music playback.

Powered by a MediaTek MT6753 8-core, 1.5GHz processor, and running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the A5 LED will be available in May for around €199.

TCL has licensed the BlackBerry brand for mobiles aimed at the business market, but that has not stopped Alcatel from launching a new Windows 10 Mobile handset which also has business users in mind. The 5.5″ (1080×1920 pixels) Idol 4 Pro runs a Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 820 and supports Microsoft’s Continuum feature, where you can dock to an external keyboard and screen for a PC-like experience, albeit restricted to Universal Windows Apps.

The spec is reasonable, with 21MP rear camera and 8MP front, fingerprint reader, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and MicroSD support. It will be available in Europe “by June”, according to Alcatel, and will cost around €599.

Continuum is a neat trick, but Windows 10 Mobile users have to live with a limited range of apps compared to iOS or Android. Windows 10 Mobile is not quite dead then; though we suspect it will be a hard sell.

If you want to run Windows on the go, you might be better off with the Idol Plus 12 2-in-1 tablet, promised for July at around €499. This 11.6″ device runs an Intel Celeron N3350 and has a detachable keyboard in which you can install a SIM to create a mobile hotspot.

We took a quick look at the Plus 12 at Alcatel’s press event and it feels like a decent effort though why you would not just use your phone for a mobile data is not clear. Another puzzle is that the Plus 12 comes with Windows 10 Home, whereas most business users run Pro or Enterprise editions.

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Posted on March 3, 2017 at 8:52 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mobile Technology, WinPhone

Freshly FCC-approved LTE-U wireless rolls out on T-Mobile this spring

, Tech Crunch, 3/3/17

The FCC has given several companies the go-ahead to activate a wireless technology called LTE-U in their base stations; if all goes as planned, devices will be able to communicate cellular data over unlicensed frequencies technically overlapping with those of Wi-Fi.

The basic idea behind LTE-U (and related techniques called License Assisted Access and MuLTEfire) is that some frequencies in the 5 GHz band used by Wi-Fi routers were going unused. Carriers and device makers had proposed allowing these unlicensed bits of spectrum to augment existing base stations’ signals, potentially improving short-range connection speeds.

Some have raised objections over the last couple years of developmnet saying this would lead to interference and congestion in the 5 GHz band, but studies from Qualcomm (a champion of the tech) and others suggest otherwise. Well, we’re about to find out.

The devices approved today by the FCC are base stations from Ericsson and Nokia already in service and compatible with both LTE-U and LAA.

“These transmitters were already approved as LTE base stations previously,” an FCC representative told TechCrunch. “The grants issued today are for the ability for the devices to operate under Part 15 rules in the 5 GHz band.”

T-Mobile appears to be the first to take advantage of this, and compatible base stations should get the LTE-U boost in the spring. Other wireless companies have been bullish on the tech as well and will likely make similar announcements soon.

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Posted on March 3, 2017 at 8:47 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Android’s instant tethering is now officially available

Mariella Moon, Engadget, 2/13/17

But still only for Pixel and Nexus devices running Nougat.

Instant tethering started making its way to some Android users in late January, allowing them to set up an automatic hotspot connection between devices. Now that the feature is officially available, more people should have access to it — but it still only works with Pixel and Nexus devices. The new FAQ section dedicated to the feature confirms what was reported before: Pixel and Nexus phones running Nougat can act as hosts or the source of internet connection. Tablets like the Pixel C and Nexus 9, as well as phones running Android Marshmallow, however, can only use shared data connections and can’t act as hosts.

To be able to use the feature, all your devices must share the same Google account. You can then activate Instant Tethering in the Settings menu: tap “Provide data connection” to set up a host device or tap “Get data connection” to set up a non-host phone or tablet. After the initial setup, your non-host devices will automatically connect to your host devices when you need an internet connection. It’s a pretty sweet deal if you’re always busy on the go, since manually tethering devices all the time can be time consuming. Another plus is that your receiving device will automatically disconnect after 10 minutes of no activity to save power and make sure your tablet/phone doesn’t die too quickly.

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Posted on February 13, 2017 at 9:51 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Majority of Android VPNs can’t be trusted to make users more secure

n, Ars Technica, 2/13/17

Study of nearly 300 apps finds shocking omissions, including a failure to encrypt.

Over the past half-decade, a growing number of ordinary people have come to regard virtual private networking software as an essential protection against all-too-easy attacks that intercept sensitive data or inject malicious code into incoming traffic. Now, a comprehensive study of almost 300 VPN apps downloaded by millions of Android users from Google’s official Play Market finds that the vast majority of them can’t be fully trusted. Some of them don’t work at all.

According to a research paper that analyzed the source-code and network behavior of 283 VPN apps for Android:

Apps that intercepted and decrypted TLS traffic.
Enlarge / Apps that intercepted and decrypted TLS traffic.

The researchers—from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the University of New South Wales, and the University of California at Berkeley—wrote in their report:

Our results show that—in spite of the promises for privacy, security, and anonymity given by the majority of VPN apps—millions of users may be unawarely subject to poor security guarantees and abusive practices inflicted by VPN apps… Despite the fact that Android VPN-enabled apps are being installed by millions of mobile users worldwide, their operational transparency and their possible impact on user’s privacy and security remains terra incognita even for tech-savvy users.

Apps that failed to encrypt.
Enlarge / Apps that failed to encrypt.

Not every behavior called out in the report is an automatic indication of a privacy or security failing. A variety of VPNs have been called out in the past for leaking IPv6 and DNS traffic. In some cases, the shortcomings may compromise only anonymity, rather than allowing attackers to monitor or manipulate traffic to and from a phone. Still, most security and privacy experts agree that at a minimum, the behaviors found in the study are things that should be avoided by VPN developers.

VPNs with trackers
Enlarge / VPNs with trackers

One of the few apps to be lauded in the study was F-Secure Freedome VPN, made by the Finnish security company F-Secure. In keeping with F-Secure marketing promises, the app blocks all traffic from a pre-defined list of Web- and mobile-tracking domains, including Google Ads, DoubleClick, Google Tag, and comScore. The researchers found at least one site, nytimes.com, where Freedome interfered with embedded content video because the app blocked some of the JavaScript served by the domain. Other than that, one of the researchers told Ars, Freedome had no issues. App licenses cost $50 per year for use on three devices which, in addition to Android, can run Windows, MacOS, or iOS.

VPNs with a malware presence as indicated by VirusTotal
Enlarge / VPNs with a malware presence as indicated by VirusTotal

The research was based on Google Play apps that, as of November, used a permission called BIND_VPN_SERVICE, which allows apps to intercept and take full control of all traffic flowing over an affected phone or tablet. The results don’t take into account apps that have been added, removed, or modified since then. Still, however the Google Play offerings have changed in the past two months, the findings should serve as a wakeup call for anyone using a VPN app on an Android device. Those relying on an app that isn’t Freedome should consider dumping it or at least suspending use of it until they have reviewed the app’s performance.

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Posted on February 13, 2017 at 9:49 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: 

Google Voice gets a new look for its first major update in years

Chris Welch, The Verge, 1/26/17

Google just announced the new and improved Google Voice that the company teased a few weeks ago. Today you’ll find updated versions of Voice available for Android, iOS, and on the web. The service has been given a much-needed visual refresh, bringing it in line with Google’s other apps. According to Google’s blog post on the changes, “your inbox now has separate tabs for text messages, calls and voicemails. Conversations stay in one continuous thread, so you can easily see all your messages from each of your contacts in one place.”

Aside from simply bringing Voice up to date aesthetically, the upgraded app carries over some features that until now were only available for users who had switched to Hangouts for some Voice functions like texting and voicemail. For one, photo MMS is now supported by Google Voice on all platforms and across pretty much all major carriers. Images show up inline in your conversations, and firing off your own is as easy as any other texting app. That sounds like basic functionality, but MMS has been a longtime sore spot for Voice. No more emails with MMS attachments or other weird workarounds.

Group texting has also been added to the main Voice apps — no Hangouts required. This is another crucially important feature to many people that Google Voice has been bad at until now. With today’s update, group conversations are labeled very clearly and should work as you’d expect them to.

Voicemail transcriptions are still in there too. And with this update, Google is introducing voicemail transcriptions for Spanish. Other nice touches I’ve noticed in a few days spent testing the new Google Voice include: in-notification replies on Android (but sadly not iOS), 3D Touch support for iPhone (mostly in Messages view), and a user experience that finally feels less like a relic from the early App Store days. This is what the Android version looked like in the year 2017 before today’s redesign:

Those days are thankfully over. Speaking of which, Google claims it’s committed to preventing Voice from falling into the neglected state it was stuck in prior to today. The company says users can expect “regular” updates and new features for the mobile apps and web client, though it offers no estimate on how often they’ll arrive. Let’s just say that Google has a lot to prove if it wants to convince anyone that Voice is a priority again. One thing a spokesperson has already confirmed to The Verge is that Google is working to implement RCS messaging in Voice.

But today is just step one, a redesign that seems more about making up for lost time than reinventing what Google Voice is. If you’ve already moved your Voice account into Hangouts (and you actually still use Hangouts), the blog post says there’s “no need to change to the new apps, but you might want to try them out as we continue to improve and add more features.”

These Google Voice updates will launch first today on Android, followed by iOS in a couple days. Once your mobile app is updated, the web client will automatically change over to the new design. Everyone should have it within a couple weeks, according to Google.

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Posted on January 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iOS, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

Google’s Instant Tethering Makes It Easier to Share Your Phone’s Connection

Eric Ravenscraft, LifeHacker, 1/26/17

Many Android phones can create handy hotspots to share your phone’s internet connections, but they can be tedious to set up. Google wants to fix this with its new Instant Tethering feature.

The new feature is currently rolling out as an update to Google Play Services. When you have multiple devices logged into the same account and one loses a connection, it will automatically offer to share another device’s internet connection.

For now, the feature is very limited. Only Nexus and Pixel devices running Android 7.1.1 are supported. Furthermore, only phones like the Pixel and Pixel XL will be able to share their internet connection with tablets like the Nexus 9 and Pixel C, not the other way around. One Pixel phone can share its connection with another Pixel phone, however. It seems that Google is still testing to this to see how well it will work. However, if this works out it should make staying online much easier.

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Posted on January 26, 2017 at 5:25 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

HTC outs an always listening, dual-screen smartphone with its own AI assistant

, TechCrunch, 1/12/17

Just when you thought HTC might be ready to hang up on its smartphone efforts, the Android underdog is turning up the volume and announcing what it describes as a “new direction” — in the form of a series of smartphones preloaded with its own AI assistant.

While mobile phones were originally a device for talking to other humans, before smartphones plus touchscreens turned devices (and people) into texting machines, analysts are spying signs of a renaissance for voice — as a control mechanism to speed up interacting with increasingly complex devices.

Every major smartphone device and OS maker has their own AI these days, from Apple’s Siri, to Microsoft’s Cortana, to Samsung’s Viv, to Amazon’s Alexa, to Google’s Assistant. HTC is finally following suit, unveiling what it’s calling the “HTC Sense companion” at a launch event today.

The company teased the launch of the new U series smartphones last month, hinting at the “For U” personalization it had in the pipeline. Today it announced two new Android handsets preloaded with the AI assistant: the HTC U Ultra, a 5.7 inch flagship phablet clad in glass on the front and back; and a more mid-tier option called the HTC U Play, with a 5.2 inch display.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed the AI assistant uses HTC’s “own in-built AI software”, but added it is also compatible with Google Now.

HTC says the Sense AI learns from the user’s “daily phone habits” to push relevant suggestions — giving examples such as reminders to charge your phone to avoid it running out of juice, or a prompt to wear warm clothes when the weather is cold, or suggestions for a restaurant for a forthcoming date.

A small second screen above the main panel is used to display suggestions from the Sense companion, and also for showing other personalized notifications — such as messages from priority contacts and favourite apps.

HTC says the idea with the dual display is to free up the main screen for uninterrupted browsing, though it looks to offer a pretty incremental benefit in terms of the quantity of screen real estate that will not be periodically obscured by notifications. (But, depending on how intelligent its prompts are, it might help cut down on some navigation-related swiping).

The U Ultra flagship also includes four omnidirectional microphones to power an always listening feature aimed at making it easier for users to interact with the device and the AI via their voice. We’ve asked HTC for more details on how this functions — in terms of trigger word, and how it’s processing and storing users’ voice data — and will update this story with any response. (You can read the company’s privacy policy here.)

HTC is also launching a premium, “ultra-hard”, sapphire glass edition of the Ultra, which comes with 128GB internal storage.

Elsewhere, HTC lauds the “ultra thin” design of the new U series glass-clad devices, which both have a waist measurement that’s 7.99mm at its thickest.

Both also have a front facing camera that can switch between 16MP high resolution images and a 4MP ultra pixel mode to suit lightning conditions. And there’s a new ‘selfie panorama’ mode option to offer a software alternative to wielding a selfie stick. Expect the usual smartphone color options (plus pink).

Also in the box: headphones that HTC claims can adapt to the ambient noise levels to auto adjust for the correct volume.

The company says the U Ultra and U Play will be arriving in multiple European markets next month. Pricing has yet to be announced.

Timing for any US launch is also not clear, though the company has tweeted the U Ultra will launch globally in Q1.

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Posted on January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

Intel’s 5G modem makes its debut at CES, but there’s a lot of 4G tech behind it

Ed Oswald, Yahoo!News, 1/9/17

There’s a continuing argument in the wireless industry over 5G — even what it actually will look like — but that’s not stopping companies like Intel from pushing forward with efforts to at least attain 5G speeds during 2017.

Intel is showing off at CES 2017 a sample of its 5G modem, which according to press materials will attain speeds of over 5Gbps. While no speed standard has been set by the industry, it’s generally agreed that 5G networks will offer multigigabit-per-second connections. Intel’s 5G modem also attains the ultra low latency and bandwidth aggregation sought by the industry as part of transition to 5G.

In more layman’s terms, in order for our wireless networks to attain those crazy speeds, devices will need to mesh together several channels of downstream data to do so. At the same time, to make all of these new technologies truly work over wireless — say augmented reality or AI-infused autonomous vehicles — you’ll need to reduce lag to almost nil to make them viable in real-time applications.

Intel hopes to have samples ready by the second half of this year, with full production starting soon after. But in the interest of accuracy, we should mention that this “5G” is really just an effort to make today’s technology work in a next-generation like manner rather than a full-blown new standard.

“Today’s communications systems weren’t designed to accommodate the massive bandwidth required to support such an evolution, or the ultra-low latency needed to allow devices or even vehicles to react to split-second events,” said Aicha Evans, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group.

What the Intel 5G modem does is take several different current technologies, including both sub-6Ghz and mmWave capabilities and MIMO. Some of these are key parts of the 3GPP 5G new radio technology, and the company says that’s by design.

“Our goal is to support both early trials and to lay a foundation enabling accelerated development of products that will support the 3GPP NR specification and help drive global adoption of the 3GPP 5G standard,” Evans adds.

Standard or not, it’s clear the industry is clamoring for 5G. When we actually get there though is another question — and it’s likely that we won’t see true 5G for many more years to come.

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Posted on January 9, 2017 at 5:25 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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5G, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, claims wireless comms expert

Graeme Burton, The Inquirer, 12/20/16

5G vision is flawed, claims Professor William Webb, and mobile operators can’t afford it anyway

THE 5G WIRELESS VISION is flawed because technological advances are insufficient to deliver it, users won’t pay extra for the higher data rates and don’t need the greater capacity it is expected to provide – and because mobile operators can’t afford to implement it anyway.

That is the claim of mobile entrepreneur Professor William Webb, deputy chair at Cambridge Wireless, CEO of the Weightless SIG, and co-founder of cloud company Neul.

“Despite the clearly flawed case for 5G, it is not in the interests of any of the stakeholders to point this out because they all benefit from the interest, funding and potential that 5G promises,” claims Webb.

He believes that the development of standards capable of delivering “consistent connectivity everywhere” would be more beneficial than “unnecessarily fast speeds in city centres”.

Webb makes the claims in a new book, ‘The 5G Myth‘.

“Current mobile data speeds are more than adequate for all foreseeable uses. Data growth is slowing and may plateau around 2027, with only around two-times growth occurring during the 5G era. With 5G predicated predominantly on higher speeds and also on its ability to deliver substantially enhanced data capabilities, this suggests 5G may not be targeting the right areas,” he claims.

With demand for mobile data starting to plateau, network enhancements are being delivered via more antennas at the base station and in the device, many more small cells, or dense deployments in completely new frequency bands.

“The advent of 4G effectively provided a capacity enhancement of around two-and-a-half-times at very little extra cost. The same will not happen for 5G. Relatively low-cost capacity enhancements will likely provide less than two-times improvements. Going beyond this will come at a very high cost due to the very large number of additional small cells that will need to be deployed,” he claims.

Furthermore, mobile networks aren’t the money-spinners that they used to be, with companies struggling to maintain their historic profitability, with revenues depressed while investment needs to be maintained at relatively high levels. “The only rationale for mobile network operators to invest in new technology is to prevent subscriber churn to their competitors,” suggests Webb.

“In practice, most visions can be adequately achieved with existing technology, such as evolved 4G, evolving Wi-Fi and emerging Internet of Things technologies,” he concludes.

Webb was one of the youngest ever Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and is also a Fellow of the IEEE – the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is currently involved in the development of standards for wireless machine-to-machine communications.

He has published 14 books, more than 100 papers and has 18 patents to his name. He is also Visiting Professor at the 5G Innovation Centre at Surrey University, Southampton University and Trinity College, Dublin. µ

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Posted on December 20, 2016 at 10:14 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
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